On Thursday, Nov. 10, the Association of Graduate Students Employed at McGill (AGSEM), and other on-campus unions voiced concerns about educational accessibility. Despite the dreary weather, over 60 graduate and undergraduate students gathered and prepared to march together to the province-wide student protest against proposed tuition hikes.
“The number of teaching assistants who turned out today shows that we continue to oppose the government’s apparent policy to make education inaccessible,” Sheldon Brandt, AGSEM’s VP External, said.
The rally was organized in conjunction with the Association of McGill Undergraduate Student Employees (AMUSE), the Post-Graduate Student Society (PGSS), and Student’s Society of McGill University in an effort to display solidarity with the different groups currently in negotiations with the McGill administration, such as MUNACA and AGSEM.
“It’s very scary once we begin to put a limit on education,” Adrienne Hurley, a professor of East Asian studies and member of the McGill Faculty Labour Action Group (MFLAG), said. “This shouldn’t be the direction we are heading in.”
At the TA General Assembly this October, the union decided that tuition fees should not be increased without a subsequent increase in monetary wages, and voted in favour of the authorization of pressure tactics, including a public demonstration. For this reason, AGSEM’s rally was timed a few hours before the national protest against tuition hikes.
“It is important that the McGill administration and the Quebec government know that students are not the only ones who oppose these tuition increases,” Brandt said.
“[Public actions] like these let us reach out to other groups on campus and push for the collective support that our position needs,” Jonathan Mooney, bargaining committee representative for AGSEM, said.
As the largest labour union at McGill, AGSEM represents 3,000 members including teaching assistants, course lecturers, exam invigilators, and instructors. AGSEM is currently engaged in negotiations with the administration. Primary concerns include wage increases, standardized paid academic training, and a commitment from the university to invest in more TA hours and positions. Both Brandt and Mooney said that this rally was an effort by AGSEM to bring the union’s position to students’ attention.
“Despite the progress we are making through discussions, the concerns being addressed are still very preliminary and missing a lot of the core issues at hand,” Mooney explained.
Last Wednesday, Nov. 9, AGSEM returned to the negotiation room to further discuss the possibilities of developing a contract that satisfies both parties. Since negotiations began in May, there has been little agreement between the two groups.
AGSEM is organizing another rally this Wednesday, Nov. 16, at noon at the Roddick Gates.